Playing at the recent Poptopia Festival in Los Angeles was a religious experience for at least one member of The Vandalias.
The Minneapolis power-pop quartet opened for former Raspberries bassist Scott McCarl, who later was joined onstage by the legendary Cleveland rock band’s guitarist, Wally Bryson. That’s when lead singer JimJim Vandalia bowed down before deity.
“I got Wally to sign the back of my guitar,” JimJim said. “It was like touching the hand of God.
“I told Wally that, seriously, he’s the reason I’m playing guitar. Badfinger was cool, the Hudson Brothers were cool, but the intro to ‘Go All the Way’ is a classic rock ‘n’ roll song, and a lot of these other bands sort of flushed out the rock ‘n’ roll and would write just melodic tunes. The Raspberries were the real thing.”
The Vandalias – JimJim and brothers Alan (lead guitar) and Bobby (bass) and drummer Tommy Etelamaki – keep the Raspberries’ spirit alive on their second Big Deal album, “Buzzbomb!” (released Feb. 17). Throw in some Sweet, a little Thin Lizzy, a bit of Cheap Trick and lots of ’90s savvy, and you have one of the purest pop pleasures in months.
On the surface, “Buzzbomb!” may seem like a throwback to the Me Decade, but there’s much more to it than that.
“When we started playing as The Vandalias,” JimJim said, “Alan was listening to his Nirvana and Pearl Jam records, and Bobby was starting to listen to The Sundays and some of the older standbys, like The Shoes and Spongetones.
“I like Nirvana and I like Spongetones, but where I was coming from, I was playing them these Raspberries records, and that was the combination. You put ’em all together, and very few bands have been able to do that. That was sort of the model we started working from.”
The Vandalias’ previous album, “Mach V,” pretty much picked up where the Raspberries left off when Eric Carmen and his band mates parted in 1974. “Buzzbomb!” maintains that tart, nostalgic ode, but with an expanded touch of Sweet-ness.
“Rather than concentrating on our Raspberries influence,” JimJim said, “when we were touring with the last album, we had been listening to a lot of Sweet records and ranging more into that kind of stuff. So we thought we were going to make a Sweet record, and we’ve got a couple of tunes that approach that sort of amphetamine uptightness, but for the most part, it’s very much a Vandalias record.
“It wasn’t nearly the Sweet tribute album we wanted to make. There’s more Sweet than Raspberries; there’s a lot more jitteriness. There’s places in there with the vocals where the neighborhood dogs would get upset with us. Sweet records, when you listen to them, they’re incredible. You pick apart the vocal harmonies and there’s sounds in there that no human beings can make. Obviously, there’s studio trickery, but it’s really subtle stuff that makes a Sweet record shine.”
One of the best “Buzzbomb!” cuts is a remake of Thin Lizzy’s long-lost “No One Told Him.” JimJim said they stumbled across the song during a tour stop in Chicago.
“Our van broke down, so we had to go to this rent-a-wreck place,” JimJim said, “and there was this ’68 International Harvester Traveler; it’s like the International Harvester version of the Suburban. It was all rusted out; it was just full of shit.
“We were loading our stuff on and this album popped out from behind the back seat, and it’s 38 Special and we were about to throw it away, but someone actually pulled the vinyl out and it was Thin Lizzy’s ‘Renegade’ (1982 LP).
“We gave it a listen at a friend’s house, and that tune was great. It’s almost a punk tune. I didn’t pick it up right away, but when we started to play it at rehearsals, it was obvious this was Phil (Lynott) doing his Sex Pistols impersonation. It’s such a great tune. It’s a shame it wasn’t a hit.”
And it’s a shame The Vandalias haven’t been able to quit their day jobs and devote their full attention to helping revive power pop.
“I don’t understand why it’s not a million-selling hit. I don’t understand why it didn’t ship gold,” JimJim said jokingly of “Buzzbomb!” “My gut feeling is that by the next album, there’s going to be a lot more attention because the entire presentation of this album – we made a good record, I think Big Deal has done a great job promoting it and the graphics job – is top-rate.
“I look at other stuff made on similar budgets and under similar circumstances and they look like indie records. I’ve had several people comment that this is a Warner Bros. album or a Capitol album. The whole packaging is that high quality.”
BWF (before we forget): Give The Vandalias a buzz on the Web @ www.vandalias.com.